I recently found a folder containing the beginning of a novel I'd started in middle school but never finished (the reason for that will be in a different post). I read it and was surprised to see a certain character appear. Her name is Hazel. She's currently a side character in Chaos in G Major. But she appeared in this old story as well as another novel from high school.
I remember creating her. She was the first character I ever made and I loved her. I was so excited to work with her. But I kept running into a problem: she wasn't a good main character. She got mostly tossed out of the story I just rediscovered and I held onto her for a future story.
A year or so later, I made her one of two narrators of a novel. I was excited to see her again and I was sure that this time, the story would be about her.
The story was not about her. It ended up being about two other characters, Sam and Olivia. After I finished that draft, I realized the problem and took Sam and Olivia's characters and put them in a my current project, Chaos in G Major. (More to come on that soon).
When I moved Sam and Olivia, I let Hazel come too. I knew so much about her and I was sure she could have a major role in the story. In the first draft, she was a main character. She showed up all the time, was well developed, and had a complete (and dare I say fantastic) character arc.
During the first revision, I realized that in majority of the scenes she was in, she could have been replaced with a different character. The traits that made her character important didn't matter to the story. And as much as it hurt me to notice, her character arc that I loved so much was nothing more than a distraction from the main plot.
At that point, I considered cutting her entirely. I could keep her in my back pocket until I found the story she was meant to be in. But I still needed her in this one. Without her, the climax and main subplot couldn't happen. I had no one to replace her in that aspect of the story.
She wasn't a worthless character, but she didn't have enough worth to be a focal point.
It hurt to cut back her role. It was one of the hardest decisions I made while I was revising. I loved this character so much. She was the first one I'd ever made. I wanted her to stay, but she couldn't. The only reason she'd been there in the first place was because I was attached.
I didn't want to let go of her, so I forced her to be in a role she didn't deserve. Taking my attachment for her out of the equation strengthened the story. And this works with more than just characters. Sometimes there's certain scenes, plot points, locations, or even lines we love so much that we don't want to delete them.
But here's the truth: readers don't care about what the author wants. If something doesn't belong in a story, it needs to go, no matter how much it means to you or how well-written it is.
However, don't delete it entirely. I have a huge document of all the scenes I've cut from my novel and there's a section at the beginning for cut singular lines I really liked. Just because a character or scene or a really beautifully written line didn't help that story, it may be useful in another one. And if I liked it, it's worth holding onto.
Just not in the story I wrote it for.
What's the hardest thing you've ever had to cut? Or is there something in your story you should cut?